Winter is coming whether we like it or not. So for those who have backyard chickens, a little extra work will be required to keep their egg-laying pals healthy, happy, and warm this cold season. Even though chickens can withstand cold weather, they still need a clean, warm, draft-free environment with plenty of food and water to make it to spring. Winterizing a chicken coop is not as difficult as some might believe. Although it takes some TLC, it can be done in a reasonable amount time and will ensure your feathered friends are well fed, hydrated, and clean enough to keep up with egg production over the next few months.
You will have to do a thorough visual inspection of the coop if you want it to survive the winter. Check over the doors, nest boxes, and hatches. If something is broken or loose, fix it now. Then, check the roof to make sure it's sound and watertight. Strong winter winds and precipitation can cause damage, even more so if there's already loose boards, protruding nails, or large draft holes. Another thing to look for when doing the inspection is for signs of predators. Predators are more likely to break into your chicken coop in the winter when they are desperate to find food and shelter. Making sure your coop is solid, sturdy, and secure will help ensure your chickens are protected throughout the winter.
Batten Down the Hatches
Vents and hatches on your coop's roof and floorboards help with airflow and reduce humidity and toxic ammonia during the summer months. But when it comes to winter, it's best to fasten the vents and hatches to reduce cold drafts. In the winter, aim for a humidity level of 40 to 60 percent. Anything higher than that could cause viruses and bacteria to thrive.
In areas where the temperature drops significantly below zero, provide a source of heat in the coop. There are a few different ways you can add heat, two of which are radiant heaters and heat lamps. If your coop is well insulated, you won't need to provide very much heat—usually one 100 watt bulb will work just fine.
Your chickens will continue to need access to water even in the winter months. If the temperatures drop really low, their water supply could freeze. In fact, it's quite common. A great solution is to buy a heated base for the water or a water heater. This way, you can be comforted in knowing your little guys will stay hydrated and ice won't be a problem. Of course, make sure to keep all wires away from your birds and regularly check for signs of damage.
When it comes to winter, it doesn't hurt to fatten up your chickens to help them stay warm. Having more fat to their bodies will provide more insulation and energy. Although grain shouldn't replace their entire diet, you should add some grains, like corn. High-quality pecking foods like forage cakes and even warm oatmeal are also recommended. A lot of chicken owners like to also supplement their chickens' diets with vegetable and fruit scraps for added nutrition to keep them happy and nourished until spring.
Making sure your chickens have clean, fresh bedding is important. Straw or wood shavings that are soiled could give your chickens frostbite. A lot of people prefer to use straw in the winter because it retains heat better than wood shavings. It also helps control the smell of chicken droppings until you clean the bedding again.
Before you lay down fresh bedding, make sure to remove all of the perches, dishes, nest boxes, and other accessories so you can give it all a good scrubbing. To clean these, hose them down and then use scrubbers and scrapers to remove any stuck-on droppings. Once it's scraped clean, use steel wool or a a plastic pot scrubber to thoroughly wash all of it with a cleaner or vinegar-water solution. Once they're rinsed well and sun-dried, you can return them to the coop on top of the clean bedding.
Even after all of that winterizing, you should still check on your flock a few times a day just to make sure they are warm and healthy. There are a few signs to look for to know if your chickens are too cold. For example, if your chickens are all huddled together in a corner or making a lot of noise, they may need some comforting. If they are not moving, they could be sick and need to be cared for. You should also check for signs of frostbite or “pasting,” which is when their anuses are blocked with droppings. To help with frostbite, thaw the area with cold water, slowly warming it to room temperature, followed by a coating of petroleum jelly. Reapply 2-3 times a day. And with pasting, you will want to slowly and gently remove the blockage with warm water.